Distaffs

I recently read an article in SpinOff about distaffs and decided to try using one when spinning in a wheel, not just on a drop spindle. Luckily I had a handy drumstick lying around that I use to roll rolags off the blending board and it is just about the right length and weight. Its varnished surface also helps the wool slide off easily as I take it from the distaff.

At the moment I am spinning Ryeland fleece and have been preparing batts on the drum carder. I used to be able to take a roving off but since the carder was motorised its not so easy as it won’t rotate freely. So now I split the batts into narrower lengths to wind around the distaff. This seems to work OK and after a spray with spinning oil I find the fibre supply much easier to handle in this manner. Using my (new) large double drive wheel I get a good speed up and even doing short draft can spin a surprising amount, (for me anyway) at a sitting.

I will carry on with this and see how it works out. I may even get to attach the distaff to one of the wheel uprights which might be even more efficient.

Distaff held in my waistband, but sometimes under my arm or in my outside fingers.

Another Spinning wheel

Rather like buses, spinning wheels come along when you are not looking in the right direction. I didn’t intend to gather another into my collection, but could not resist this one.

My new-to-me Norwegian wheel

This one is a Frank Herring imported Norwegian wheel from the 1970s (I think). It’s had a lot of use and a bit of abuse, but works fine. They are after all meant to be used!

I really wanted a double drive wheel with a large wheel that has a good solid tensioning system. My converted d drive is OK, but it’s really hard to get the take up going without cranking the mother of all up at quite an angle.

Part of my rationale for the wheel is that I grew up near to Dorchester, where Herrings are based. I used to see this very (maybe?) wheel in their window in the High St as we went past on the bus when visiting my grandparents in South St, and found it a magical thing, even as a child. So it’s a short of revisiting childhood, reclaiming the magic, back to my roots thing!

I never could have imagined the path my life would take as I gazed at that wheel, and now I own one. Definitely a personal journey. I don’t care if it creaks!

Actually it spins beautifully, plenty of take up and very easy to adjust. I probably need to use a slightly better drive band than kitchen string…

I just need a few more bobbins as it only came with one.

Ryeland on the bobbin… Should be Dorset really…

I am in love….

Spinning a balanced yarn

The fleece I am working with is not brilliant, but I am using it to practise making a balanced, soft spun woollen yarn for knitting. To do this I read up on Mabel Ross’ method, and with a little tweaking to suit my preferred yarn handle, it worked!

Mabel Ross worked it out for us and it is quite logical really. You do need to know your wheel’s ratios, work consistently with your draft and count your treadling to start with, so if thats not your style, don’t go there.

I was aiming for around 2tpi in the finished yarn, but actually increased this a little after the first samples.

The equation is to do with spinning the singles at the tpi you want and then plying them to get the final tpi you want. Its really helpful to remember that if you spin your singles Z, when you ply them S you will be unwinding some of the single’s twist. (update- I have subsequently spun some yarn at a much higher tpi using a 1:10 whorl that has come out soft after a similarly balancing plying method. Maybe I’m getting it…)

I worked backwards from my 2tpi goal.

For example: I was working with a 1:6 whorl, therefore one revolution of my wheel would turn the bobbin 6 times. I was spinning ‘Z’ twist with a long draw of 12″.

First of all I needed to know how many treadles to the 12″ draft would give me the tpi I required. Yes I know I’ve muddled metric and imperial, but it still works.

Number of treadles = (required tpi x planned draft length)/ divided by wheel ratio (which i know will be 6)

tpi of my singles = tpi of my plied yarn divided by number of plies

II reckoned that if I want 2tpi in the plied yarn, I needed to spin the singles at around 4tpi.

The equation I worked with using MR method to find out how many treadles I needed to a set draft length was:

tpi = (wheel ratio x treadles)/divided by draft length.

Go back to the earlier question of how many treadles?

Number of treadles = (required tpi x planned draft length)/ divided by wheel ratio (which i know will be 6)

which came out as

tpi (4) x draft (12″) = 48/6 = 8.

So 8 treadles using the 1:6 whorl to a 12′ draft should give me 4tpi. in my singles…

Well I wrote this post a while ago, and since then have done some spinning. It was not successful, way to soft and loose spun for my taste, but a balanced yarn – no twisting and it knits without bias.

I upped singles tpi a little and also the ply by a smaller amount and the yarn improved. and stayed balanced! A lesson learned.

Plein-aire spinning

A bit like outdoor anything – providing its not raining or freezing – spinning is enhanced by the open-air. I took my little Louet wheel with me whilst on holiday on the Pembroke coast recently. We were being careful and avoiding towns etc in our caravan sitting on a farm, so there was plenty of opportunity to spin in the lovely sunshine. It seems ages ago now, but was so refreshing.

Victoria beside the caravan, enjoying the view.

I took a bag full of mixed colour Jacob’s fleece and sorted it into dark and light before hand carding it. Ifirst of all spun a skein of cream to test the tpi and grist I was aiming at and on a rainy day decided to dye it with the onion skins from our soup.

All very earthy!

I can’t resist a marl yarn, so plied the colours into variations on this.

From left: knot or knop marl, slubby marl, onion dyed 2 ply, chain plied random carded colours

First ‘in person’ TAG meeting of 2021

Our local Textile Arts Group (TAG), finally managed to meet today. Eight of us met up with Covid secure arrangements and as the weather was sunny we were in fact able to sit outside the hall to spin, knit and talk.

It was lovely, and everyone has been busy learning new things and perfecting their skills during lockdown.

Wheels all going madly
Natural dyed fibre

I took my Louet Victoria folding wheel and spun up a bag of Suffolk fibre that will be used as the core for a fancy yarn.

New members are always welcomed. If you live near Brighton and like to know more, or would like to come for a taster session, do get in touch.

What do you sit on when at your spinning wheel?

This is a question I often ask other spinners, as I can get quite uncomfortable if I don’t set myself up on the right chair for the wheel I am using. I must admit to being a bit of a voyeur at my local spinning group, because I like to watch how others set themselves up and see how they work their wheel, its fascinating to watch different techniques. I never stop learning!

I have several wheels that all have different height flyers and orifice, so have found that I need to change position depending on which I am using. The lowest is my vintage double drive lace wheel (single, tiny treadle, named Penny) which comes in at just above knee height, followed by a Louet Victoria (Vicky, single drive, double treadle) and then my single treadle, double drive Ashford Traditional (Hamish). I’m considering adding a double treadle kit to him, but he has been stained mahoghany by the former owner and I don’t think I could bring myself to do that to the new treadles.

The highest orifice is on my double treadle Ashford Traveller (Dora), which is the one I use most. The Traveller is easy to manoeuvre around the living room, has a small footprint, and I’ve added a jumbo flyer as well as a wide ratio standard, so its pretty versatile. I just wish it was a double drive as I prefer this set up, but you can’t have everything. One day I might come across a double drive Traveller and have the spare cash to make the upgrade.

I digress – apologies, but I do that a lot.

Back to chairs. After attempts at trying other set ups, I’ve found a dining room chair best for the Traveller – with a firm cushion at my back and one on my lap. The back cushion supports my lower back, encouraging me to stay upright, and also pushes my bum forward so that I don’t get compression from then front edge of the chair seat pushing into the back of my knees. The lap cushion helps to prevent neck and shoulder strain. An added perk is that I seem to spin a more consistent yarn when using the lap cushion.

Before I discovered that this type of chair worked for me I was sitting in a soft armchair, albeit an high and upright one. Trouble with this was I had to have lots of cushions to sit forward, and then, although my lower back was OK, my bum tended to slide forwards because the soft seat didn’t support the backs of my thighs enough to keep upright. Plus the seat is quite narrow and I got neck strain from avoiding the arms when I worked long-draw or was plying.

So I am now reasonably comfy on the dining room chair with the Traveller, but I think I’d be better with a slightly lower seat. Its just the palaver of carrying chair and wheel to a good position where: it doesn’t rock on the edge of the rug, there is a table near me to put mycup of tea on, the dog won’t walk through my fibre, and I can see the TV – not too much to ask I feel.

Working on the low lace wheel I use a nursing chair that is only 12″ (about 26cm) from the floor. This chair has a big seat and no arms, whilst the back is quite high so its a good shape for spinning. The back is a good height, but I’d like it a bit narrower to allow full movement in my shoulders.

The Traditional is in another room and I use a swivel office chair with adjustable everything. This is good, but is sadly an ugly (and patchily faded) royal blue and too heavy to carry from room to room. So its not an option for the living room where I like to spin in the evenings watching TV with my partner.

My Louet Victoria (Vicky) is a folding, portable, lightweight wheel for use outdoors or at workshops, so sometimes when using her there is no choice about where I can sit. If I can take a chair with me, I have a very lightweight aluminium folding directors chair that doesn’t have that awfully uncomfortable bar across the front under my knees. I like to take a cushion for the seat to make it super comfy and this helps me sit upright. It also keeps my bum warm if the day is cold. However this type of chair has arms – but they are pretty low and wide apart and I seem OK on this.

I’ve tried a backless stool and ended up with terrible back ache, so thats not an option for me. I am toying with the idea of a traditional ‘spinning chair’ with a low seat and narrow back, but the seats all seem really small, and I am worried my bum will overflow the sides!

So that is a summary of where my spinning chair experiments have led me.

Sometimes, depending on my overall muscular-skeletal day-to-day twinges I find working the treadle wearing a soft shoe rather than barefoot alleviates foot and knee pains. But I love spinning barefoot outdoors in warm weather.

Ancient fleece – an experiment

Whilst digging in our loft today to make space for the plumber to run new pipes, I found a fleece!

I couldn’t believe what I saw, because I was sure I remembered throwing it away years ago, and I mean years…probably the best part of twenty years! I can say that with quite a lot of certainty because it was given to my Mother when she wanted to learn to spin on her Westbury wheel. She had bought it in the 1970s I think, in Glastonbury, as a kit. My Father made it up for her and she stained it a dark walnut colour. But she didn’t have any fleece – or to be honest the faintest idea how to spin. A friend of a friend found her two Jacob fleeces from a local shepherd in Somerset, but I don’t believe she ever got any yarn off the wheel.

Not bad for a 20 year old fleece

I ‘inherited’ the wheel (and the fleece) when I bought a flat and had space to house it. Once again it sat unused, and the fleece sat lonely and unloved as well. When I had children, the wheel became the object of their attention. They delighted in treadling it and bits fell off.

After my Mother died I took the drastic decision to sell it to save it, if you see what I mean. I so regret that now, I wish I’d put it in the loft, which is somehow where this fleece ended up – I must have chucked the other one, or maybe gave it with the wheel.

Since then, I have acquired an Ashford Traveller and a Traditional, but I would love to have another Westbury for sentimental reasons. So if anyone is looking to sell a Westbury wheel do get in touch with me first.

So today the fleece saw the light of day after many years. I thought it would be absolutely ruined, if not full of moth, but no, it is fine. I don’t think it was very greasy to start with, and there isn’t much VM. I’m in the middle of a test wash of a part of it to see what happens. I can’t believe it has survived, but I’ve given parts a good tug and there isn’t any breakage, and very little discolouration. It is a beautiful chocolate brown and cream, so I plan to separate the colours and spin it as a tweed-effect, providing all goes well.

It will lovely if I can spin it; a sort of homage to my Mum who never quite got it together to spin it herself, much as she would have loved to. If I could spin it on a Westbury, my homage would be complete!

Spinning outdoors

Is it risque? It’s certainly liberating. Given the restrictions on meeting up indoors, going to the park seemed the the perfect way to meet up when we can’t go to our normal groups.

This is the second one I’ve organised and it was lovely way to spend a Friday afternoon. I took my portable Louet wheel and others brought wheels, drop spindles, knitting and crochet. And a picnic lunch!

Shade was mandatory as it was so hot, and we found a generous tree that have us a shady space big enough for plenty of social distancing.

I’m taking the photo…
So someone kindly took one of me

I took along a sack of stove-top rainbow dyed fleece as described on my Dyeing Wool page. It’s a little coarse, but in nicely formed locks, so I am flick carding it and spinning it quite thick for use in a rug, (maybe)?

Spinning outdoors

Last week a few of us got together (safely distanced and masked), to take our textiles into the park. I enjoyed myself so much I forgot to take a photo!

The thought of spinning outside in the sunshine encouraged me to use bright colours. So I took along some Shetland fleece I dyed a while ago using acid dyes, (I have written more about dyeing fleece with acid dye here).

I’d spun up a bobbin of Suffolk fleece that is not very exciting, so I planned to use that as the core for a bright, irregular spun, core-spun yarn to which I would add a charcoal wrapping yarn. All 100%wool. I took my folding Louet Victoria S95 wheel which is a joy to use.

The core yarn was Z twisted quite tight. The wrapping colours were also put on Z twist, and the final charcoal, commercial yarn was S spun over the others.

Photo taken at might, so the colours are not accurate.

After washing and drying the twist the colours hardly muted and it’s come out as lovely yarn.

Taken outdoors, but the colours are a bit light.

Having a bash at core spinning

Last night I blended some rather lumpy Southdown fleece I was trying to use up with some dyed Shetland. It was just for fun – no plan involved, just testing out my DIY blending board. When I sat at my wheel – watching ‘Hidden’, I couldn’t think what to do with it. Then I remembered seeing Lexi Boeger’s method of coreless- core-spinning in her book ‘Hand Spun’. I thought the strong colours would work well against the natural if spun in this way, so I had a go.

According to Lexi the principle is to only work with a small amount of fibre at a time, and to spread the fibres wide into a trianglular web. You spin the core with the fibres at one edge of the triangle, whilst simultaneously holding the other part of the web at right angles to this so that it can wrap around the core between your drafting hand and the orifice. Its bit like patting your head and rubbing you tummy at the same time – but once I got going I enjoyed it. There were a few messy bits, which I attribute to the lumpy Southdown myself!

I love the way the colours wrap around the natural core

I’m not sure its truly core spinning, but its on the way there and I do like the effect. The yarn was very over-twisted, but after a good soak in hot water and hanging with a light weight to dry naturally it is fine now.